Being aware is good but being involved is better. On Saturday, March 31 members of the community gathered to celebrate in the “Uplifting Celebration for Autism” at the Brent Brown field in honor of April being National Autism Awareness Month.
Parents, children, caregivers, community service organizations and educators were on hand to take part in a combined symbol of hope and unity, a balloon release.
Laurie Bowen, director of the Bridges program for “Kids on the Move” was in attendance for the balloon launch.
“It was so moving to see so many organizations come together and work as one group,” Bowen said. “I thought it was beautiful. I know a lot of people had someone in mind during the balloon release.”
Across America and the world, autism is becoming more prevalent. The CDC reports 1 out of every 88 children born is diagnosed with some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and 1 in every 47 is diagnosed in Utah.
Symptoms and types vary widely with each individual. Many people with autism develop and excel in specific areas including math, music and art.
The Utah County Autistic Resources is well represented by several school districts, early intervention programs and colleges. UVU will be hosting a conference April 20 about autism. Bowen and Karen Fairchild are teaching the first ever, Introduction to Autism class this semester at UVU. Students of the class were there for the balloon launch and will be at the upcoming conference.
Autism Speaks, a national organization dedicated to educating and serving those affected by autism, have begun their “Light it up blue” campaign. Utah County has its own leaders paving the way in education and services. Brian Birch, the Associate Vice-President for Academic Affairs for En- gaged Learning at UVU, is part of an autism initiative group that is just getting off the ground. As acting chair- man of the Autism Working Group, Birch has lofty goals.
“We are making huge strides in autism awareness, and the future is very bright thanks to the tireless efforts of our faculty and staff,” Birch said. “People often overlook the capabilities and contributions of our autistic community. With just a little more awareness and support, we can make a huge social impact.”
After a mental health symposium in 2010, in which autism was a critical component, the UVU faculty and community members that make up the Community Relations Council were urged to dedicate a full conference to the issue of autism. This year is the second such event dedicated to educating all those affected, involved and interested. Speakers from a wide variety of fields will present topics as simple as under- standing autism to genetic research.
“It is our goal, with this conference, to be a bridge to help the public, and our students, become more aware of the impact of ASD, and of new treatment, therapy and educational options for families and individuals liv- ing with autism,” said Toni Harris, the Assistant Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences who is coordinating the conference events and speakers.
Attendees of the conference will have access to on site respite care at no additional cost.
UVU serves as an educational institution for the community and strives to fulfill its mission. Building community awareness is the first of many steps. Educating the public once they become aware is the next step in the vital process of integrating the future workforce that may be highly autistic.
While there are varying forms of autism, many individuals are high functioning and have talents to offer a diversity of fields. Involving and providing an atmosphere void of misunderstanding and fear is vital to the growth and stability of the economic community. The business models of the future depend on jobs being filled by capable individuals and the management responsible for putting a willing workforce to use.
“UVU can be the bridge to alleviate misunderstandings and fear, while increasing practical opportunities to educate and inform,” Harris said.